Reporting from Washington — With less than three weeks to go in a midterm election campaign that is on track to draw more political spending than ever before, attacks on both sides reached a frenzied pace Wednesday.
Supporters of Republicans launched an unprecedented $50-million advertising campaign, and Democrats and their allies renewed a controversial complaint that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the large GOP-allied spenders, mixes foreign money with its political spending.
Two independent GOP groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, formed by Republican strategists Karl Rove and Edward Gillespie — planned to kick off a $50-million "House surge" with $2 million in ad buys in the districts of six incumbent Democrats who previously had enjoyed a fundraising advantage over their Republican opponents.
The effort ultimately will target dozens of House Democratic incumbents in an attempt to thin out the party's resources.
"We are trying to break past their 40-seat firewall and force them to spend resources defending members whom they previously thought were safe," said Jonathan Collegio, communications director at American Crossroads.
The Crossroads groups planned to spend $10 million on the effort, with two other GOP groups — American Action Network, which is run by former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, and Republican strategist Scott Reed's Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity — also contributing, Collegio said.
American Action Network pledged about $15 million for TV and Internet ads, and planned immediate buys in the districts of seven Democratic incumbents.
Meanwhile, Democrats stepped up charges against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, distributing a report bolstering the suggestion that the international business organization funds its political operations with money from abroad.
The charge was first leveled last week by the liberal-leaning blog Think Progress, which said the chamber comingled its domestic funds with the dues and fees it received from overseas. It was then cited by high-ranking Democrats, including President Obama and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine.
Since the beginning of August, the chamber has aired 13,108 ads, according to an analysis by Political Correction, a project of the liberal-leaning Media Matters Action Network, a research center. Of the 10 conservative organizations that were analyzed by the group, only American Crossroads had aired more ads — 17,360 — over the same period.
GOP allies criticized Democrats for what they called flimsy allegations against the Chamber of Commerce. Some Democrats have privately expressed reservations about the strategy.
But Think Progress on Wednesday published a new article — which was then circulated by the Democratic National Committee — that detailed $885,000 in annual dues the chamber has allegedly received from more than 80 foreign companies
"Again, all of these annual dues are collected in the same 501(c)(6) the chamber is using to run partisan attack ads," the online article said.
Chamber officials dismissed the report in a statement: "This allegation is equally false and baseless, not to mention tiresome and desperate."
However, chamber officials have refused to disclose the source of the money used to finance its political efforts.
The White House on Wednesday challenged the organization to disclose its funding sources.
"My response is that if they want to end this argument, open their books," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.